Qualcomm’s new modules make it more likely that we’ll see flagship 5G Android phones from Samsung and LG, for AT&T and Verizon, early next year.
With a slew of 5G flagship phones expected in the first half of next year, the components needed to make them work are getting better pretty fast. Only a few months after announcing the first antenna modules that could fit AT&T’s and Verizon’s 5G into a phone, Qualcomm today announced new modules that are 25 percent smaller and could support both carriers’ networks in the same device.
While T-Mobile and Sprint are running 5G on existing cellular bands, AT&T and Verizon are relying on super-high-speed millimeter wave spectrum, which is going to need multiple arrays of many tiny antennas on each phone. We saw the first modules with those antennas back in July. They’re already pretty small—less than the length running from the tip of your finger to the first knuckle—so even smaller is, well, really small.
AT&T and Verizon are also using different frequency bands—Verizon is on 28GHz while AT&T is on 39GHz. Last month at Mobile World Congress Americas, AT&T exec Gordon Mansfield warned us that the first round of 5G devices might not be able to handle both bands, making them essentially locked to one wireless carrier.
The new, smaller module “is engineered to enable mobile device manufacturers to address stringent mobile handset size requirements,” Qualcomm said in a press release. In other words, it lets companies make relatively small 5G NR phones.
Qualcomm’s press release for the new modules promises support for AT&T’s, Verizon’s, and European millimeter-wave configurations. Qualcomm marketing director Bassil Elkadi said in an email that “there are SKUs that support both 28 and 39 (so it will enable the same device SKU to use both 28/39),” which means that devices built with the new module could work with both AT&T and Verizon, if device manufacturers decide to take that path.
In any case, this module really helps tee off what’s going to surely be a big 2019 for 5G smartphone launches. At Mobile World Congress Shanghai, OnePlus CEO Pete Lau already told us he’s working on a 5G phone for early next year, and I think this raises the chance the Samsung Galaxy S10 or LG G8 could have 5G, as well. We may hear about those phones at MWC 2019, in late February.